Examining Equity in Complete Streets Policies


Complete Streets policies — policies designed to ensure safety, comfort, and ease of use for pedestrians of all ages and abilities, cyclists, transit riders, and motorists — have been around in some shape or form since the early 1970s.

Typically, policies at the state and local levels require that all road construction and reconstruction create streets that are safe and convenient for all users and all modes of transportation.

However, very little is known about the implementation of these policies, particularly in lower-income communities.

For example, how does implementation vary by the socioeconomic status of the community? Anecdotally, we know that if wealthier towns adopt Complete Streets policies, while poorer ones do not, inequity is exacerbated; and, if poorer towns adopt these policies but don’t have the money for new repairs or roads, then the implementation is slower than in wealthier towns.

Even in jurisdictions that are more mixed-income, neighborhoods are frequently divided by income, and often accompanied by racial segregation, leading to similar problems. The lower-income areas in town may not see the same level of street maintenance and new funded projects or improvements as the wealthier parts of town. Thus, a Complete Streets policy might unintentionally increase disparities if the inadequate facilities in the well-to-do part of town are prioritized higher than those in the poorer neighborhoods.

Our research closely examines the equity and active living–oriented components of Complete Streets policies, particularly which implementation provisions are likely to lead to better and more equitable implementation in communities.

Additionally, a sample of jurisdictions with Complete Streets policies on the books for at least five years will be selected for semi-structured interviews to learn about Complete Streets policy implementation with a focus on equity-related issues.

This research is related to two other projects led by Dr. Chriqui: Impact of Zoning Code Reforms on the Built Environment and Physical Activity Behaviors and the Physical Activity Policy Research Network Plus.

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Duke University Global Health Institute